• Professor Marcia Langton is the lead author on a new study, which finds Indigenous women are facing barriers to reporting family violence. (BENT3LAND PRODUCTIONS)Source: BENT3LAND PRODUCTIONS
Sydney Film Festival 2018 will be screening a powerful documentary about the native title case that rocked the nation, Wik vs Queensland, along with a suite of First Nations' programming.
Emily Nicol

18 May 2018 - 2:57 PM  UPDATED 18 May 2018 - 4:40 PM

Sydney Film Festival is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department's by showcasing a retrospective of short films funded by the department, alongside a host of global First Nations films.

As one of several special program strands of the long running film festival, First Nations: A Celebration will feature 10 films made by and about Indigenous peoples. 

This includes a screening of the suspenseful, highly political, feature documentary, Wik vs Queensland directed by Dean Gibson. The film goes behind the scenes of the 1996 landmark High Court decision which granted native title to the Wik peoples of western Cape York Peninsula. One which shook up politics, resulting in the the longest debate in the Australian Senate’s history, and also divided Aboriginal leaders amidst a national media buzz.

With unique access to the key players of that moment in history, and featuring never-before seen footage of a young Noel Pearson and Marcia Langton,  Wik vs Queensland provides a unique behind the scenes look into the passion, pain and dedication of those who fought to maintain rights and access to their traditional lands. 

It is an insightful exploration of what filmmaker Gibson describes as, "a turbulent time in Australia’s recent past."

After the historic Mabo decision regarding native title in 1992, the win for the Wik people should have been a time of cohesiveness, a natural progression and acknowledgement of traditional owners, what followed however was a backlash from pastoralists, stakeholders and the media.

"Many of our nations so-called 'leaders' chose to demonise Aboriginal people and blame them for laying claim over what the High Court considered just as equally theirs." Gibson says in his director's statement. "These Aboriginal people didn’t have a voice then, but they do now. Their voice is the narrative for this film. For the first time ever, we reflect on this checkered moment in history through Aboriginal eyes. This film is an opportunity to hold people accountable for racist actions, language and motives in what was a turbulent period for Aboriginal peoples."

Filmed over three years with many hours spent on country, with invaluable access to the footage collected by late cameraman Lew Griffiths, a 'trailblazer' in media capturing remote and regional Indigenous Australia, Wik vs Queensland gives a thrilling insight in to the impact of the decision on the Wik communities. 

Producer Helen Morrison says, "We hope to generate a national conversation around examining who we are as a Nation, and how we can begin to understand the unbroken connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to the land."


First Nations: A Celebration - Program



Directed by Larissa Behrendt, Marieka Walsh 
Screenwriter and director, Behrendt addresses the issues of the continuation of removal of children from family, through the story of a Noongar woman Barbara who was caring for her grandchildren when her daughter was suddenly taken by welfare workers.

Daughter of The Sun

Directed by Sara Margrethe Oskal

One of two International films screening as part of the First Nations program, Sami filmmaker Sara Oskal from Norway highlights cultural prejudice. Protagonist Anne encounters prejudice on a writing course because of her Sami ethnicity. A writing assignment gives her the courage to confront a fragile memory, a wound that cuts deep.


Directed by Hunter Page-Lochard

Page-Lochard is both actor and director in this short thriller. After an unwanted visit from his brother, ex-dancer Johnny (Page-Lochard) goes searching in the bush for his missing dog, in what fast becomes a life or death situation.


Finke: There & Back

Directed by Dylan River

The Finke Desert Race is Australia's fastest and most dangerous off-road motor sport event. The route from Alice Springs to the Finke River is visually spectacular, but the track is littered with corrugations and soft sand. 'Finke is more than a race; it is a way of life.' Director Dylan River -who is a competitor himself-  explores the race from that inside angle showing us: the contestants, organisers, paramedics, and the s to win against the desert at all costs. It’s a visual adventure of inspiration and danger, excitement and spills.




Directed by Shaandiin Tome 

Native American filmmaker Shaandiin Tome makes a bold statement  about social justice and compassion for voices that are lost. The main character,  Ruby lives on a Navajo reservation. Similar to many Native Americans, who have experienced dispossession by the impacts of colonisation, she suffers with alcoholism. Ruby tries to keep her alcoholism a secret, but in  avoiding the problem, and its impact on her wellbeing,  she eventually becomes isolated from her son, her friends and finally her culture.


Teach A Man To Fish

Directed by Grant Leigh Saunders

Despite a promising artistic career, Grant is unsettled and feels there is something missing in his life. As a fair-skinned, middle-aged, Aboriginal man, with a Norwegian wife and two young "Koori-Wegian" kids, he is still struggling to reconcile his different worlds.

Concerned that he has been away from his home country of Taree, on NSW’s mid-north coast, for over twenty years, Grant latches onto the opportunity to quit everything to go fishing with his father. As Grant asks more questions of his father, we learn that there is infinitely more to this father-son trip than learning how to catch fish.


Undiscovered Country

Directed by Tyson Mowarin

Uncle (played by the late Tom E. Lewis) inflicts an impromptu visit on his wayward nephews, imposing two cultural traditions, one literary, one personal, to get them thinking about a new way to go.

Yulubidyi - Until The End

Directed by Nathan Mewett

Told in Martu Wangka with English subtitles, a young Aboriginal man must help his disabled brother escape from their abusive life in a remote Australian Aboriginal community.


Crossing Tracks Screening

In the Crossing Tracks screening, audiences will be able to catch two shorts, Richard Franklin's Harry's War and one of Ivan Sen's earliest productions, Wind.

Harry's War is a story of mate-ship, brothers in arms and friendship that embraces culture, war and death. Two mates —Harry, a Koori and Mitch, a non-Aboriginal Australian— head off to fight in the jungles of Papua New Guinea during WWII.

Set in Australia in 1867, Wind depicts the bleak high country, where a young black tracker and his elderly sergeant follow the trail of a killer, a traditional Indigenous man.


Shifting Sands Screening

Six short films —GraceMy Bed Your BedPassing ThroughPromiseTears and My Colour, Your Kind— released in 1997 and 1998 with the funding assistance of Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department.

Grace by Wesley Enoch reveals the comfortable life of a young girl. After fleeing the mission years ago, she returns for a family funeral and is faced with unfamiliar family and a forgotten past.

My Bed Your Bed by Erica Glynn is set in a desert community where a man and woman are promised to each other under traditional marriage laws. When the time comes to move in together, things don't go to plan.

My Colour, Your Kind by Danielle MacLean follows the story of a young girl who escapes from her incarceration in a dormitory. During the journey, she recollects her life and the treatment she has endured.

In Passing Through by Mark Olive depicts a family on the road who pass through an old gold mining town. For Margie, the place triggers childhood memories and she is drawn to two old Koori men who knew her family. 

Promise by Mitch Torres tells the story of an old woman, overseeing her granddaughter and making some damper, she asked how she came to be "promised" at a young age.

Tears by Ivan Sen, shows a teenage couple leave the mission for a new life. As they walk to the bus, they explore and discuss their reasons for leaving.


Sydney Film Festival runs 6 - 17 June. For more information go here 

Wik Vs Queensland will air on NITV Sunday, 8 July at 8.30pm and be available on SBS On Demand. 

Teach a Man to Fish will air on NITV later this year.